Monday, 23 March 2009

Creativity, part II

This blog is a follow-up to our previous discussions on creativity. Last time, we established that creativity is a means of producing original ideas which have value, i.e. a purpose, or are highly skilled. It is something that applies to every role or career, and should be encouraged and nurtured to develop from early on in a person’s life. Applied specifically to art and design, a piece of work is generally considered to be 'art' if it either shows a highly refined skill, or evokes some emotion in the viewer of the piece. Then in theory, art should be accessible to anyone with no room for elitism, but we know that's not the case.

After doing some research as to what other people define as creativity, specifically within video games, I came across this article which cited Little Big Planet as a game which stood out concerning Sony’s creativity, as opposed to Playstation Home which wasn’t as successful as it’s competitors. I've only played LBP game recently, and although the concept of a side-scrolling platform game isn’t original anymore, there are small aspects that stood out such as the variety of minigames, and how you can ‘stamp’ your character and home with pictures or animated objects, or how you can control your character’s individual limbs and expressions. The whole visual style of the game has a sort of universal appeal which has attracted a variety of age groups of both genders.

I liked how the game tries to promote creativity, though the limitations do provide the easy option of making random choices rather than creating ‘original content’. Although this does seem to be possible, it isn’t the main focus or most accessible part of the game, and is more evident in games like ‘Drawn to Life’ for the DS. I also appreciated how LBP didn’t have an obvious bias towards either gender, which is a step towards getting rid of the mentality of ‘girls’ games and boys’ games [although, I think most of these are fine for young kids].

It’s also stated that the best ideas are ‘coincidental’, are usually simple, and have a tendency to stick with you. There is a problem with this theory when it comes to real life, as the ideas you come up with entirely off your own back, as a passing or reoccurring thought, are usually so personal only you yourself would find them interesting. There’s a very low possibility of these types of ideas actually appealing to other people and being recognised as valuable. Valuable ideas are formed by reworking these passing thoughts over and over, by doing research, and surrounding yourself with similar things. That’s why being surrounded by other creative people doing a similar thing to you at University is more motivating than being at home, and keeping up with the art scene and games industry is beneficial, I think, as it is usually quite inspirational. I think it’s important to be critically aware of the industry you want to go into [conerning games, this is something I need to work on].

On a slightly related note, if anyone’s interested in Superflat, I watched a short animation recently by Studio 4 °C, who are probably one of the best commercial studios right now, in my opinion. Their stuff has this amateur feel to it which reminds me of indie festival style anime. Thought I'd share!

Director is Daisuke Nakayama, this one really does look like a hiphop-influenced Imaishi [Dead Leaves, Diebuster]. I do spend quite a lot of time watching cartoons, so when something stands out from the 90% of rubbish Japan produces, I get excited. I’ve never actually wanted to be an animation student though, I know I get too caught up on the small details to churn out the amount of storyboarding, etc that’s required. Of course, Game Art is probably more difficult..!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Week 19

I think it’s very easy for people in our creative industry to dismiss the whole idea of Liberal Arts/academics because they don’t have to deal with that curriculum anymore. For most people who have being aiming for this industry, academic subjects and accolades are just a means to an end which you can easily label as illogical and crap and stifling for creative people, whose talents and interests should have been recognised by educational institutes instead of repressed [one of the main points in the intriguing TED video clip we watched today]. I see the liberal arts and the whole process of compulsory education as a means to attempt to make well-rounded individuals, and the institutions I went through communicated that. I’ve never had any bitter feelings towards the methods of education, and I don’t think studying mathematics and humanities is pointless even if you’re not going to be using those skills in your future career.

I don’t think creative subjects are exactly stigmatised, as my schools have always encouraged me in those areas; my art teacher had blatant disregard for the idea of assessment, and his own work and teaching methods was so concentrated on traditional techniques he was way more focused on getting us to make pieces that looked visually impressive rather than what fitted the mark sheet, thus everything we made was basically extremely shallow, and 6th form graduates from that school had practically zero chance of getting into an art college. My art teacher at a different 6th form college was the opposite, the creative process is supposed to be about reworking ideas until reaching a final outcome, and the marking structure was completely set around supporting/sketchbook work and was meant to run parallel to the actual process of making a painting or sculpture or dress etc. Similarly, in Foundation Art, one part of the course was keeping a creative journal to discuss contemporary artists and their work which might influence you. So while a lot of teaching methods are disengaging and plainly bad, I don’t think the ideas behind marking and grades are' wrong'. I also think that those who’ve worked harder for their studies deserve to be recognised, so I do like the idea of University being a more exclusive thing that only hard workers are able to get to. The problem is what schools value as hard work.

I do have a personal attachment to the values of the education system which makes me biased, mainly stemming from the fact that my working-class parents and grandparents paid for me to go to ridiculously overpriced private school; which was not the pinnacle of effective teaching methods, but it got the results and it was probably an overall step-up from the alternatives. After going through public school, my Dad went back as an adult to get English and Maths GCSEs because he wanted to be acknowledged as an intelligent person as well as the better job prospects, and thus he has this unshakable high regard of the values of academic degrees. To brush them off as worthless lines on a CV, I think would be a disrespect to what my parents did and what they did for me and are doing throughout my own educational process - which is constant support, funding, and reward but never pressure. They’ve always known I was going to study art, and always encouraged me to work for whatever I wanted, and I chose the option of picking up as many good grades as I could along the way because you only have one chance, and my Dad always says he regrets not going down that route. Would he have been happier if he did? I don’t know, but the least I can do is value what’s been given to me when many other people’s creativity is not nurtured or valued by parents or institutions. I think I’m an extremely lucky person in this respect to be from such an encouraging background so out of principle, even though I agree that there some things that are seriously wrong with the system, I take pride in what I’m able to put on my CV even if others think it’s worthless. I think it would be ungrateful, in my own circumstances, not to be even a little bit proud.

I realise I sound like a square, but it’s more just an emotional reaction to what we talked about today. Also, I despise the idea of spending so many years of your life doing something, only to think of it later as a waste of time. I think that’s really negative, and there is always some value in anything. Just watch me eat my words when I end up as a bitter, snarky old lady..!

To actually address the task, I don’t see why you can’t have a highly-trained individual who also has a good liberal arts background. The whole process of going through school is to give you that background, and I see university as the process of training one specific thing. Though I suppose if you think of it that way, it’s best to have a good idea of where you want to end up early on, otherwise three years just isn’t enough to start from scratch. That’s why I think, can I really get to industry-level in 3Dsmax in just 3 years? Well, more like two now. We’ve had our whole lives to practise our traditional art skills; can I really get to the same level in such a short time? I suppose I must think of it as just a different way of applying those skills. I think by a ‘good liberal arts background’, employers want well-rounded individuals who are aware of the world around them. Really, I think there should be much more emphasis in schools on the subjects of cultural studies, debates, politics, current events, morality, that kind of thing, which in my opinion when taught well would be a better way to produce intelligent, aware people rather than the divisions of ‘faculties’ from so early on.